Up in North Idaho, you're not considered a full-grown adult until you wield your very own snow shovel; and, up in those parts, where average annual snowfall tops 60 inches, a person's relationship with their shovel is a deeply spiritual one. Now, even in the less-snowy south, as the leaves rot on my lawn and the nights dip to freezing, my spirit stirs in anticipation of the only winter sport for which I have an active passion: shoveling snow.
For more than 10 years, I have stood by my trusty size No. 14 scoop with Power D-grip. Her blade is 14 inches wide and constructed from ABS poly. Her handle--27 inches of stained North American ash--has been worn and tested through many seasons, so many that the True Temper logo has long worn away.
Built by Massachusetts-based Ames, which boasts more than 200 years of tool-making history, her official name is the Grain Hog--a nod to her agricultural pedigree. But it's as the Gray Bomber, a name earned in protracted battle against the snow berms of Bonner County, that she shines.
According to Popular Mechanics, there are eight chief categories of snow removal equipment: the 24-inch shovel, the 18-inch, square-nose, coarse-surface broom, round-nose shovel, scraper, aluminum scoop and 30-inch variety.
In my experience, wider shovels like the 18- to 30-inch models pack on too much weight (snow weighs from 7 pounds to an "astonishing" 30 pounds per cubic foot, according to Popular Mechanics), making them unwieldy and prone to breakage over time if constructed from plastic. If the blade is metal, forget about it. You might as well buy stock in Icy Hot.
On the PM breakdown, the Gray Bomber combines the qualities of a square-nose shovel--"good for scraping, removing ice-crusted snow"--with the scoop--"rustproof; handles big drifts."
That makes my shovel, a treasured gift from my father (a former longtime building supply salesman), the perfect lightweight instrument for both chopping and scooping. My brother, who has worked seven seasons as a lift operator at Schweitzer Mountain Resort, is also an evangelist of the Grain Hog model, and, it turns out, so are the folks at Bogus Basin--though their grain shovels are metal, for rigorous mountain use.
"We use the real heavy-duty [grain] shovels," Bogus General Manager Alan Moore told me. "They're almost the shovels you see people using for cement sometimes. ... They're very versatile."
There you have it: Those guys are the Olympians of snow shoveling, and while I'm content with my lower place on the podium, it's good to know that the old Gray Bomber and I will be ready for whatever a high-desert winter has to throw at us.